Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Eat-ail not retail and ArtsDistrict Hyattsville (maybe it should be eat-ale?)

I wrote about how food concepts are becoming significantly more dominant in retail districts in my recent update, "Updating Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Driven Revitalization." City Block looks at the issue as well "On restaurants,  retail, and clustering– agglomeration."

The current issue of The Atlantic Magazine covers retail development trends too, "Death of the Salesmen: Technology's Threat to Retail," plus I forgot to mention the recent Richmond Times-Dispatch "Public Square" program on attracting and retaining millenials, which included discussion of the amenities that people are looking for, including food, "Public Square focuses on attracting millenials."

People walking to and from the Union Market on Florida Avenue... while returning a rental car yesterday and putting in gas beforehand, I was amazed at all the people walking along Florida Avenue, between Union Market and the subway station (pictured right).

This was sometime around 3:30 pm on Sunday.  This kind of activity, especially young people, would have been unimaginable two years ago.

It's about food and exciting activation and placemaking all wrapped up into one integrated package.

The night before, we briefly checked out the new retail district on Rte. 1 in Hyattsville (sans camera) and it illustrates the point to a t, how retail districts are reshaping towards food.

I didn't do a formal census of each business there but there were only two straight up retailers--Yes! Grocery (which was really really good, probably their best store yet, including an incredibly well curated beer department) and Big Bad Woof, a pet-related retailer, with their original store in Takoma DC; (2) one service retailer--an optical store; (3) two personal care services businesses, Hair Cuttery and a spa; and (4) the rest were restaurants (Busboys & Poets, which also has a small book operation; a Thai place; an Indian Place) and upscale quick service restaurant (Chipotle, Elevation Burger) plus a frozen yogurt place.

Note that the Busboys and Poets restaurant is huge, probably seats between 200 and 300 people, including a huge outdoor patio, and they were 2/3 full, while the other restaurants (this was around 9pm) except for the frozen yogurt place, had but a handful of customers.

Mostly food-related uses and minimal retail offerings, besides, the pet store makes most of its money selling upscale pet food.

Except at the scale of the "regional shopping district," it's going to be harder and harder for retail districts at sub-regional scales to offer non-food retail.

And because the night time daypart is dominated by places that offer alcohol, the trade magazine QSR (quick service restaurants) explores the possibility of QSRs adding alcohol offerings, in order to strengthen the ability of such restaurants to compete at night, not unlike how McDonald's added to their coffee offerings to compete with coffee shops for morning business.  See "Buying into Booze" and Restaurant Specialty Beverage Programs Extend Menu Options."

And given these trends, it's going to be harder and harder to support all the retail and mixed use development that people want and developers want.  There just isn't enough retail business to go around.

The thing about The Atlantic article and I discussed the issue in my Richard's Rules piece, is that it says only 8-9% of total retail commerce is online.

That might be, but at the same time, that might be 9% overall but more than 50% of certain categories like books or music, and making it very difficult for such to be offered as retail at the local scale, except in extraordinary circumstances.

As far as service categories go, it means no travel agencies spread out across local commercial districts.  It means less business for the Post Office, and so maybe the USPS wants to close down the branch (note that the National Envelope Company is about to declare bankruptcy because of a precipitous fall off in demand for their products), etc.

Basically eating and high touch services (hair, spa, eyes, pets, etc.) are the retail categories that will survive e-commerce.

Some upcoming blog entries related to this topic are tactical urbanism and retail-placemaking-activation.

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At 11:57 AM, Anonymous thm said...

I'm not exactly sure what one can learn from it, but also on Route 1 in Hyattsville, Franklins makes an interesting case study. I don't know how often you get there (it is our default restaurant and is very popular with Brookland families) but about a month ago, they finished an expansion of the toy store, and about a year ago, they overhauled their menu and are now including lots of yuppie-compliant locally-sourced ingredients. Excepting its toy store, it hasn't helped any other business succeed, but this might be in part because none of the adjacent businesses were ever open during the peak dinner hour. (The yarn store across the street is closed now; perhaps it would have had more success if one could have shopped there while waiting for a table at Franklins.)

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I meant to mention that. I am really happy that they are re-lighting the shop, enjoy neon sign. But I am awaiting a new (used) camera, as this one I have is dying, so I couldn't photograph it.

I've written about the difficulty of retail in the "arts district" there in the past.

It's because you need a center. Now there is a center, and maybe they can grow outward.

I will be writing about this issue of creating new centers soon. The Brookland-Takoma piece above is really about, at least in the case of Brookland, creating a new center.

In Takoma, it's about filling the hole or vacuum between the Takoma DC retail section and the Takoma Maryland retail section. Now that the hole is getting filled, the commercial district is strengthening, although the DC side that is extant doesn't really have new retail opportunities (it does, but it would require that a church--probably once a supermarket, and a property management company office--formerly a CVS, be converted back to retail) except in the parcels being redeveloped near the Metro.

But a bunch of disparate pieces here and there isn't enough. cf. 12th St. NE in Brookland...

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous MetroDerp said...

It's funny because I have the same feeling even about vibrant areas like 14th St. NW in DC (I live above one of the restaurants there).

I don't support the proposed moratorium in any way, but I do have a bit of sympathy for the argument that restaurants and bars seem to displace all other commerce in the area. What I wouldn't give for say, an extra corner store/bodega-type place. But at the same time I also understand that for many reasons it's just hard for small shops like that with high overheads to make a go of it. And I'm not sure what the solution is.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

There isn't one because of the cost of rent and the sales and profits generated per s.f. of space. + the issue of new big buildings mostly being rented to chains or franchises or chainlets.

At the Hyattsville development, the Big Bad Woof and the spa are the only true independents from a retail standpoint, although Big Bad Woof, from an identity and branding standpoint, could expand beyond their now two locations. The others are chainlets or franchises.

And two independent restaurants (Spice 6 and the Thai place).


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